Oct 29, 2017 Parenting

The Surprising (and Overlooked) Way to Raise an Empowered Girl

by Dacy Knight
PHOTO:

Getty Images

In today's social and political climate, raising a daughter who grows up feeling strong, capable, and supported is as important as ever. There are a number of ways to raise an empowered girl, but one surprising strategy recently highlighted in The Washington Post proves to be particularly impactful. Reporter Ellen McCarthy explored the ways in which being funny gives girls and women power and agency—yet is often pushed back against by society.

McCarthy offers up anecdotes of women who have found strength and success thanks to their sense of humor. Laurie Menser, the 38-year-old director of development at a science association, describes how being funny helped her climb the corporate ladder and earn respect in her field. She recalls how her humor was frowned upon when she was growing up, yet her father always encouraged her to continue making jokes and seek laughter.

"We encourage our daughters to be ambitious and athletic, opinionated and outspoken," writes McCarthy. "But what if raising truly empowered girls also means raising funny ones? What if we teach our daughters that humor is their turf—just as much as any boy's?"

Lisa Damour

One of the things that humor can do is … help girls stand up for themselves in ways that people don't retaliate for.

There's scientific evidence that encouraging girls to be funny helps them to stand up for themselves and be strong. "One of the things that happens to girls is that they are encroached upon by the world," notes Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

She goes on to explain that "one of the things that humor can do is … help girls stand up for themselves in ways that people don't retaliate for." McCarthy also notes that there's "an abundance of research on the social advantages that come with a strong sense of humor." Humor conveys a number of desirable and respected attributes, including but not limited to intelligence, confidence, and competency.

T. Bradford Bitterly, co-author of a new Wharton study on the use of humor in professional settings, has found that individuals who effectively use humor are more likely to be elected to leadership positions. "It can actually shift perspective of status—and by status what we mean is respect, influence, and admiration," he says. "The ability to crack a joke shows social ease and can turn awkward elevator silence into a golden moment of human connection," adds McCarthy.

T. Bradford Bitterly

[Humor] can actually shift perspective of status—and by status what we mean is respect, influence, and admiration.

Still, funny women are not received by society in the same way as funny men. "Both men and women are more likely to laugh if a male is talking to them," says Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Society still sees girls and women exhibiting humor as going outside of the norm, as not being in line with "traditional feminine behavior."

Yet by encouraging girls to cultivate their sense of humor from a young age and celebrating it rather than discouraging it, can help instill this important tool. So what does this mean for parenting strategies to raise empowered girls? McCarthy outlines the following: Praise attempts at humor, combat messages that diminish it, and encourage sons to value humor in the girls and women in their lives.

Next up, this is how Blake Lively plans to raise fearless daughters.